Training = Learning? LO14068
Tue, 24 Jun 1997 09:21:01 -0500

Replying to LO14052 --

Adding my two cents' worth to the conversation about beliefs:

In Training = Learning? LO14052, Morty Lefkoe writes:

>>If behavior is the result of beliefs, then permanently eliminating the
>>beliefs will change the behavior permanently.

In another recent post, Ray Evans Harrell equated beliefs with Senge's
concept of mental models. I'd like to offer something that works better
for me: beliefs are values in action.

Values are the things that are important to us, and they can be very hard
to describe. Values are statements about oneself, outside the context of
the interactive world. Beliefs are expressions of how the world is
supposed to work in relation to values. In this sense, Morty's statement
above implies some way of getting at the root of how a person sees herself
and changing the underlying values.

For example:

If one of my core values is (for example) physical comfort, then it's very
important to me to be comfortable, and I get upset when that value is
violated (this is the root of anger, but that's another conversation). It
doesn't matter how the world treats me, I just want to be comfy. Taking
it outward to the level of belief, I'd say that the world should make life
comfortable for me, or that I should do whatever it takes to make myself
comfortable (or avoid pain). So belief is the phase between values and

This is admittedly very simple, but perhaps it serves to show that beliefs
are statements about how the world should be, in relation to what's
important. To put it another way, values provide the criteria for
normative statements about the world, which we call beliefs.

Mental models may be beliefs, but they may also be conclusions (tentative
or fixed) about how the world works, drawn from observation. In this
sense, I might believe that the world works in a certain way (note the
absence of the word "should"). But in this case my belief is conditioned
on past experience and is more open to change. In the case I outlined
above, my belief is conditioned on how I see myself, and is less open to

There's a lot of overlap between these two meanings, and I can't pursue it
in a short space. Perhaps we might find better terms to distinguish
between them. It seems strange that the English language gets stuck here.
Anyone care to help? Maybe there are words in other languages that would
give us more precise meanings when translated into English than our own
words do.


David E. Birren
Organizational Consultant, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Ph: 608-267-2442, Fax: 608-267-3579

"Teach thy tongue to say 'I do not know' and thou shalt progress." -- Maimonides

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